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Super Bowl halftime shift? Beyonce pop vs. Coldplay rock

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Mike Blake/Reuters

(Read caption) Beyonce (l.) and Bruno Mars (r.) perform during the halftime show at the NFL's Super Bowl 50 football game.

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Following the Super Bowl 50 halftime show, most viewers are talking about the performances by artists Beyonce and Bruno Mars, both of whom took the stage at past Super Bowl halftime shows.

The rock band Coldplay was the first act announced as participating in the show and the group, led by frontman Chris Martin, took the stage first, performing such songs as “Viva La Vida.” But critics are now focusing most of their attention on the songs that followed, including “Uptown Funk!,” which was performed by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, and “Formation,” which was performed by Beyonce. 

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The latter song had been released only the day before by Beyonce.

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“It’s Coldplay, starring Beyonce,” New York Times writer Joe Caramanica wrote of the halftime program. “The night’s true event… of course, was Beyonce, who returned to the halftime show three years after headlining it to provide a much-needed assist to Coldplay… Together, Beyonce and Mr. Mars brought screaming jolts of soul and funk and jubilation onto a stage that until that point had lacked all of those things.” 

USA Today writer Robert Bianco wrote that Beyonce “upstages Coldplay in halftime show… there’s no question Beyonce just stole that Super Bowl halftime show from its headline act, Coldplay.” 

And Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times wrote that “Beyonce [got] the halftime win with Coldplay’s blessing… props to Coldplay members for not being afraid to look like the little guys at their own gig.  Which, of course, they did.”

Coldplay is a far more rock-oriented act than Beyonce or Mars and their selection in some ways harkened back to the mid-2000s period when those behind the halftime show selected such performers as Paul McCartney and The Who. 

Recently, however, those behind the Super Bowl music show have gone with more pop-oriented acts like Beyonce, Mars, and Katy Perry, who headlined last year, and all have earned praise. 

Many factors go into whether a halftime show succeeds, including song selection and amount of pageantry (Perry earned positive reviews for stunts including riding a giant lion). But is Super Bowl 50 another indication that audiences want more pop-oriented acts  for the Super Bowl halftime show rather than artists that are more rooted in rock 'n' roll?

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The popularity of halftime pop stars may be indicative of the industry right now. Of the nominees for the 2016 Grammy's Best Rock Album, none have had a single chart higher on the Billboard Hot 100 than No. 37 (the group Muse achieved that). These are not groups that are reaching the top of the charts.

Coldplay’s songs can still chart, with recent hits like “Magic” and “A Sky Full of Stars” cracking the top 20 on Billboard, but artists like Perry, Mars, and Beyonce are far more of a presence there, with all of them having achieved multiple No. 1 hit singles in their careers. 

The success of shows involving Perry, Mars, and Beyonce is also most likely due in part simply to the skill of the performers involved. Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield wrote of Beyonce’s headlining turn in 2013, “Bey ran the world with superhuman renditions… What a trip to share the planet with this woman,” while Los Angeles Times writer Wood wrote of Mars’ performance this year, “Mars carried off his performance like the top-notch show-biz professional he is.”

Coldplay has earned praise for the band’s live performances, too. But the fact that acts like Beyonce, Mars, and Perry are performing these extremely popular pop hits and doing so in a way that wows the crowd may be what’s bringing them to Super Bowl dominance. 

Prior to Coldplay being announced as the Super Bowl halftime show for this year, some of the most popular possibilities being discussed as contenders were artists such as Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift – both pop-oriented acts that could still take the stage in years to come.